In February of this year I called on Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy to resign on the basis she is not a fit and proper person to hold such a high office for a variety of reasons.

Readers will recall that the Minister, last year, chose to reinstate the thoroughly discredited Whooping Cough ‘cocooning’ vaccine for fathers, in the knowledge it was ineffective and that it will expose this segment of the population to the unnecessary risk of disability or death associated with all vaccines.

What’s worse, it can now be revealed that the Minister, while in opposition, received specific and unambiguous advice from the Victorian health department’s Professor Chris Brook during a 2012 Estimates Committee hearing that vaccinating parents was totally ineffective in protecting newborns from Whooping Cough.

Ms HENNESSY — Minister, if I could just take you to budget paper 3, page 141, and the public health outputs, you would know that since 2009 the Victorian government has funded free vaccinations for parents and carers of newborns in an effort to protect newborns from the current whooping cough epidemic. Indeed last year you announced an extension of that vaccine until 30 June 2012. Last week there were 1655 notifications to your department of whooping cough for the year. Can you just confirm for the committee if the public health outputs include the funding of the extension of that program to protect families, in particular newborns, from whooping cough? 

Prof. BROOK — The state decided some three years ago that it would, in consultation with other jurisdictions, initiate what has been called a ‘cocoon’ strategy. Since children are not born with natural immunity to pertussis and they cannot really be vaccinated until about the third month of life, it is important if there is a pertussis epidemic, or mini epidemic, to try and protect them. The outbreak of the disease can occur because pertussis is not a lifelong vaccination, so it can get into the adult herd and then be transmitted to children. So that can be dangerous — — 

Ms HENNESSY — Do you mean parents by ‘herd’?

Prof. BROOK — The term ‘herd’ is an epidemiological one. It implies the population.

Ms HENNESSY — You are talking to humble politicians.

Prof. BROOK — Yes, but parents in this particular instance, or grandparents. The idea was to try and vaccinate the parents and encourage others who may be associated with an infant to obtain vaccination. That was done in good faith based on limited evidence at the time and has been continued in most jurisdictions, I think bar one, to this year. During the course of the last 12 months, two separate manufacturers have put in fairly complex submissions to the ultimate arbiter of these things, which is the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. So it is not a matter of chief health officers or bureaucrats of any sort, whether professional or not, putting information forward; this is complex, technical information put forward by manufacturers. On both occasions the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, which is totally independent and very expert, has determined that there is no clinical effectiveness of this strategy, and therefore the commonwealth, having previously declined to contemplate any support for the vaccine, has firmly determined that it will not.

But that changes the dynamic in so far as each of the jurisdictions is concerned, because obviously if we are told something is ineffective, then it becomes a moot point — and still not a moot point, it becomes clear that it is not something that should be supported when indeed there may be better ways to spend the money concerned. So all jurisdictions who have been in this program will be effectively ceasing the cocoon strategy as of the end of June this year. One jurisdiction — and I am sorry, I do not have which one before me — has already done so without ill effect. I should also point out that the actual rate of disease has declined significantly. It is about half what it was in the 12 month prior period, although there is still some ongoing activity in New South Wales compared with Victoria.

On what basis then did the Minister reinstate cocooning?  Surely it wasn’t on the basis of something she read on the internet?  Surely it wasn’t on the basis of internet propaganda issued by the Hughes, who have been dubbed the ‘Kardashians of Vaccination‘?  After all, the Minister has been openly critical of parents relying on vaccine information from the internet, so surely she wouldn’t have been swept up in the fear porn du jour?  One could even say she has a pathological hatred of the internet and yearns for the days when governments were able to control the level of information provided to the general public.

Regardless of the reasons for her doing so, the Minister has reinstated an ineffective vaccine with callous disregard for the safety of Victorian fathers, some of whom will be inevitably disabled or killed by a totally unnecessary and invasive medical procedure.

That just isn’t right, but thank God for the internet, otherwise we may never have known.

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